The late Pik Botha – one in  a million? Here’s the proof.

By Alec Hogg

Apart from the unfortunate requirement that you need to be dead, cracking the Obituary page in The Economist is a big deal. The influential weekly magazine covers the world. And 55m people die every year. So the odds against getting featured are a million to one against. So seeing the late Pik Botha in this week’s edition is notable.

File Photo: Pik Botha
File Photo: Pik Botha

Botha, who was 86, died on 12th October. Under the headline “Apartheid’s Apologist” he is described by The Economist as a self-proclaimed liberal who claimed to be working from within to change the apartheid government: “casting himself as a good man in a rotten system”. The editors quote clearly don’t buy it.

The piece concludes Botha’s ability to charm world leaders actually prolonged apartheid, suggesting it would have been better off had he not been around. Maybe. Then again, Syria shows what is possible when there is no counter to an autocratic leader following a “might is right” approach. Pik, who in 1986 shocked white SA by saying he would serve under a black president, certainly provided that balance.

Whatever his critics claim today, his progeny also suggests there was something in Botha’s genes. Son Roelof is one of SA’s top economists. Grandson, also Roelof (Pik’s actual first name), is managing partner at Sequoia Capital, Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firm. And he did make The Economist‘s obit page, after all.